A late-night revolt has turned into a full-blown war in the ruling AIADMK.
Tamil Nadu’s caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam on Wednesday ordered an inquiry into the death of his mentor J Jayalalithaa, intensifying a high-stakes revolt against AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala whose potential elevation to the top post has sparked a political crisis in the state.
Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s long-time confidante who was elevated as the AIADMK’s legislature party leader on Sunday to pave the way for becoming the chief minister, hit back within hours, parading 130-odd MLAs in a show of strength at the party headquarters.
She then packed off all her MLAs into three buses and sent them off to an undisclosed location – a luxury hotel – to be kept under guard lest they be subject to poaching.
This is a first in politics for Tamil Nadu that has only seen such scenes playing out across the border in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and in distant Uttar Pradesh or Haryana.
However, possibilities of her swearing-in immediately looked uncertain though governor C Vidyasagar Rao is likely to arrive in Chennai on Thursday. He is also likely to meet AIADMK leaders.
Rao, the governor of Maharashtra with additional charge of Tamil Nadu, was in Mumbai and is said to be consulting legal and constitutional experts on how to deal with the crisis triggered by Panneerselvam’s dramatic, late-night announcement on Tuesday that he was forced to resign by legislators siding with Sasikala.
Panneerselvam said the investigation into the death of Jayalalithaa will be headed by a retired high court judge. Jayalalithaa suffered a heart attack and passed away on December 5 after spending 75 days in hospital.
Panneerselvam, 66, has accused Sasikala of keeping party leaders away from the former chief minister’s hospital bed and, after her death, engineering a coup to replace him.
The people of Tamil Nadu deserved to be told the truth about her illness and death, he said, reiterating his willingness to take back his resignation.
“I am in touch with many MLAs and have their support”O Panneerselvam
Social activist Traffic Ramaswamy, who was one of the persons who filed a PIL seeking details of treatment of Jayalalithaa and her health, was also present at the residence of OPS, as Panneervelvam is fondly called.
“Tamil Nadu people are closing the chapter of Sasikala,” said PH Pandian, a former assembly speaker who claims that Jayalalithaa was murdered.
He reiterated that Tamil Nadu must be saved from “the gang of murderers and looters”.
Though the numbers appeared to be with Sasikala, Pannnerselvam remained unfazed.
“Amma (Jayalalithaa) gave him many opportunities, I also gave him many opportunities, but he joined hands with the DMK”Sasikala
“Just wait for few days and you will see how things develop. I am in touch with many MLAs and have their support,” the chief minister said. He hoped that he would be invited by the governor and given a chance to prove his majority on the floor of the house.
Sasikala sacked Panneerselvam as the party treasurer on Tuesday night and followed it up by removing the IT secretary on Wednesday as she sought to put pressure on any party leader backing the CM in the bitter power struggle.
Panneerselvam, however, refused to take the sacking lying down and wrote to bank managers saying all AIADMK transactions must have his authorisation as he was still the treasurer.
Sources said the AIADMK is planning to parade all MLAs before President Pranab Mukherjee as proof of its strength in the 234-member assembly.
“All are united and no one can break the party or shake our foundations,” Sasikala said in a short address to MLAs and party workers.
She dubbed Panneerselvam a traitor and warned MLAs against joining the caretaker chief minister’s revolt against her.
She also said Panneerselvam was an opportunist.
“Amma (Jayalalithaa) gave him many opportunities, I also gave him many opportunities, but he joined hands with the DMK,” Sasikala said, accusing Panneerselvam of colluding with the AIADMK’s rival.
DMK’s working president MK Stalin denied the accusation, saying his party had nothing to do with the internal squabbles of the ruling party.
“Amma was my God for 33 years during which there were many ups and downs, many calamities…She overcame all of those, and I overcame all of those alongside her and we will overcome this one too... I swear this in the name of Amma,” Sasikala said.
Her family members, whose presence at Jayalalithaa’s funeral had raised eyebrows, were present during the meeting.
Rivals derisively refer to Sasikala’s famiy as “Mannargudi mafia”, a reference to her hometown and the alleged corrupt dealings of her family that enjoyed immense clout in early days of Jayalalithaa’s rule.
In Delhi, the Congress accused the BJP-led government at the Centre of using the governor to try and topple the AIADMK government.
Party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said people’s mandate should not be ignored and “one can’t bring down the government in a state using the governor as a puppet”.
Information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu, however, said the Centre had no role to play in the internal developments of the AIADMK.
“The governor is studying the situation,” Naidu said.
(With agency inputs)